I am an addict of many things that I’m happy to admit and most people know about – alcohol, drugs, gambling, relationships etc. but one thing I never thought I had a problem with was shopping – or indeed, spending as a whole.

I always understood an addiction to be something that I suffered from and gave me consequences. These consequences are obvious with drugs and alcohol (physical and mental); relationships (emotional) and gambling (financial/risk taking). So, when I conducted a cross-addiction questionnaire and scored highly on shopping/spending, I was quite surprised as I had never considered this to be an addiction i.e. where were the consequences?

The Priory Group classifies shopping addiction as:

“A compulsive shopping disorder is a socially and financially damaging psychological condition. While many people like to shop during time off, at weekends, or during seasonal holiday periods such as at Christmas, shopping addiction involves an overwhelming urge to shop and subsequently spend until it begins to adversely affect your life. This may include overspending and taking out several store credit cards in order to be able to purchase items, even if you may be aware that this could incur long-term financial debt.”

This definition fits with my shopping and spending habits quite accurately. I took out many credit cards, building up debts, only paying the minimum amount off each month, buying 12 shirts online when I only intended to buy 1 or 2! This also goes for holidays – I love travelling but there was a period in my life a couple of years back while in physical sobriety that I was booking holidays every couple of months and spending thousands of pounds a year doing so. This wasn’t so bad as I was earning good money, but a lot of those holidays were being bought on credit that I wasn’t paying off.

The real problem here though is that I was still trying to change the way I felt about myself, just as a I was with drugs or alcohol or gambling. I wasn’t feeling comfortable in my own skin, so spending hundreds of pounds on a holiday to some exotic or buying nice new shoes and shirts to make me look and feel better became a solution for me. However, it was not a sustainable solution.

My experience was that I wasn’t getting the same high from these experiences that I used to get from my active drinking or drug taking. Before long, I began spending more, buying more, travelling more and eventually taking pills and then finally drinking to reach that state of mind I was seeking deep down.

This may seem like a rather dramatic decline from some seemingly casual spending into full on destructive drinking and drug taking. But this is my reality. I have an addictive personality and as such I must keep my motives in check over what I am doing, or I could be heading for trouble.

How do I know if I am spending for a legitimate reason or spending to change the way I feel? It is a difficult question.

Much like a magpie’s eye is caught by something that glistens in the sunshine, I am attracted to bargains and sales that seem tempting and I see them everywhere – websites, social media, television, billboards etc. Most people love a bargain, but for me it seems to kick off an urge in my addict self to see how much I can buy and how much money I can save in doing so. I certainly don’t blame the advertising companies for this, because I am aware I have a choice over whether or not I pay attention to their advertisements.

I became hyper-vigilant over the recent Christmas period and subsequent New Year’s sales and feel I was rather restrained in comparison to my usual standards of uncontrollable purchasing. In saying that, my self-obsession and self-centredness which are character defects of my addictive personality, rose to the surface and I bought myself more goods than any of my family members of friends put together – perhaps there is some way to go for me yet!

But the serious matter is this: I am an addict and if I cross-addict into a behaviour that gives me a “high” albeit how inconsequential it feels at the time, I am prone to repeat this behaviour because I like the feeling it gives me. If a pattern of addictive behaviour emerges as a result of these “highs” then I am at an increased risk of returning to my addictive behaviour or substance of choice.

Shopping is something that should be a fun experience and one where you can treat yourself to nice things when you have worked hard or when you have experienced a tough time. But please be careful that it does not become a crutch or an addictive habit that you use to change the way you feel, as it could lead to more serious consequences.

If you feel as though you’d like to get advice, for yourself or for a loved one, get in touch with us today.

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